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From Under A Rock: Little Shop of Horrors

October 16, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Little Shop of Horrors
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From Under A Rock: Little Shop of Horrors  


This week’s pick isn’t quite a horror film, but it’s a staple of Aaron’s October movie diet and one that he feels is overlooked and underrated.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose The Thing. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Little Shop of Horrors.

Little Shop of Horrors
Released: December 19th, 1986
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Howard Ashman
Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn
Ellen Greene as Audrey
Levi Stubbs as Audrey II
Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik
Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello, DDS

Aaron Hubbard: Little Shop of Horrors is a film that feels like it was made just for me; it’s a musical with Ashman and Menken behind it, it’s an adaptation of a 1950’s sci-fi horror B-movie, it has astounding puppet work, and a murderer’s row of great comedians. Simply put; I adore this film.

Michael Ornelas: I had seen a stage version of this but never the movie. It was better than I could have imagined. Simply put: I loved it.
Story Through Song
Aaron: Little Shop of Horrors borrows from many genres, but it is a musical first and foremost. Every major character and plot point has a dedicated song. There’s the big numbers one expects like the “I Want” song (two of them actually), the big love song, and a new staple Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were bringing to the genre; villain songs. There’s even a Greek Chorus. But I also like little moments like Seymour explaining how he found Audrey II or discovering what it eats get songs as well.

Michael: The main theme has been stuck in my head for days now since I first watched this, and Levi Stubbs’ voice has been panging around in my head, and I am 100% okay with all that. This was super catchy and the music was top notch. As soon as I saw Menken’s name in the opening credits, I knew to expect greatness. I think my favorite musical component was in fact the chorus, who had the best singing voices of the bunch, and had Tichina Arnold who went on to play the mom in Everybody Hates Chris, which I loved. The music was driving the pace forward and gave the movie a constant feeling of momentum as it was all so energetic.

Aaron: The singing can be hit or miss; Ellen Greene plays Audrey wonderfully, but her voice can be a bit weak or grating at times. That fits the character so it never bothers me too much. Unsurprisingly, my favorites are “Dentist!” and “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space”, both of which show off Howard’s unparalleled skill as a lyricist. I’ve been listening to Menken and Ashman my whole life but finding their work on edgier material was just a joy for me.
Audrey 2
Visual Bliss
Michael: This movie was a cavalcade of unique visuals, from the technical marvel that was Audrey II to Steve Martin squirting dentist water into a patient’s mouth from afar as he tried to scream through it. Big and small, this movie was a visual success.

Aaron: I was surprised how much I enjoyed the cinematography and the sets, but I really shouldn’t have been. Between the Muppet movies and Sesame Street, director Frank Oz knows how to create a scene that feels both unique and real despite having fantastic elements. And I can’t praise the puppetry and effort that went into Audrey II; the singing plant is this film’s crowning achievement. While Aliens understandably took home Best Visual Effects at the Oscars, I think this film deserves to be mentioned whenever amazing practical effects are brought up.

Michael: It took on its own identity with the combination of its puppetry/animatronics, set design, color palette, and even costuming. I read what went into making Audrey II work so well, and it’s fascinating. They had Rick Moranis do everything in slow motion and filmed the animatronics at half speed so when they sped it up, it would look much smoother and less jerky as animatronics were known to look. It’s absolutely brilliant and until I read that, I would not have been able to tell. The only real giveaway is watching Moranis’ mouth movements, but even then, that could be chalked up to imperfect lip-synching, but even then he’s pretty darn great.
Steve Martin
A Cavalcade of Comedians
Aaron: This film is an amazing collection of talent; Oz and his puppeteers, Menken and Ashman’s music… and nearly every great comedian of the 1980s. Rick Moranis stars in a role that feels made for him, but then you get Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray and James Belushi. This film is hysterical, with humor that is usually incredibly dark. The black comedy mixed with the upbeat music is a winning combination.

Michael: Agreed. Also Christopher Guest, who was hilarious as the first customer as soon as they put Audrey II in the shop window. I was giddy when I first saw Steve Martin on screen, and then not too long after that, I got to see my personal favorite comedian in this movie: Bill Murray. His role had me laughing out loud and was such an interesting joke. A masochist at the dentist — sounds simple, yet I’d never seen it before.

Aaron: It’s largely improvised by Murray, which is a perfect use of him. I also like how it’s a bit of justice towards the character; Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist gets off on causing pain to unsuspecting victims, and here he had to deal with another person violating him. Oddly poetic. Another thing that constantly amused me was Seymour struggling with the morality of what he was doing. Murder shouldn’t be so funny, but the script and Moranis’ delivery makes it so.

Michael: Loved it. Visual effects were top notch, comedy landed, music was perfect, and the cast was legendary.


Aaron: Honestly, if I’m totally objective, the singing is a little rough for me to call this a great musical. But it has so much else going for it, so many talented people and influences that I’m just gonna ignore it. Full marks for me.


Michael: Eh, musicals have always favored vocal flavor over virtuosity, so that didn’t bug me in the slightest.

Aaron: It’s a minor nitpick in an amazing piece of pop art. I also personally argue this is better than Rocky Horror Picture Show and deserves more attention.

What are your favorite scenes from Little Shop of Horrors?

Next week:

Michael: George A. Romero passed back in July and I already knew that I was going to pick one of his flicks for the column this month. I decided to go with what I feel is the best “of the Dead” movie I’ve seen.
Day of the Dead
Aaron: This should be enlightening. I know Romero by reputation but not through experience.

Michael: I’ve only seen his first three (Night, Dawn, and Day), but may be inclined to watch his other zombie movies when we’re done with next week’s column.

What’s your favorite Romero movie?

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The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
Michael and Aaron love every bit of this movie. Little Shop of Horrors brings together an incredible assortment of talent to deliver a unique and entertaining experience. How often do you see a musical with Oscar-nominated puppet work? Where else can you hear Howard Ashman and Alan Menken work on such dark material? Throw in some of the best comedians of the era, a sincere love story, and two exceptionally memorable villains and you're bound to find something that grabs you.